Oct. 21 is Georgia Driver Appreciation Day, and Atlanta Public Schools proudly honors the dedicated, professional drivers who serve on the frontline every day, ensuring our students arrive safely to and from school.
To help kick off Georgia Driver Appreciation Day and National School Bus Safety Week, held Oct. 21-25, Atlanta Public Schools honors the extraordinary efforts of bus operators like Tonnia Cousins Blount, a seasoned, dedicated, and caring driver who is passionate about serving students.
Blount loves her job and the kids she drives to and from school each day. An APS bus driver servicing Route 19-919 in the Jackson Cluster for the past 27 years, Blount has no plans to retire anytime soon. She sees her job as a labor of love – one that gets her up bright and early each morning, during which she greets the bright faces of students attending Benteen Elementary, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, and Maynard Jackson High.
For Blount being a bus operator is more than just a job. It is a mission that brings her joy every single day.
“This is the only real job I’ve ever had,” said Blount, a Price High School alumna whose mother inspired her to become a bus driver. “I really, really love this job. It’s the relationships that I’ve gained with the community and the kids over the years. I get to see my children graduate from high school. I’ve got kids that have gone off to the army, gone to college, who’ve had their kids, and are now bringing their children onto the bus. Also, I have made some amazing relationships with people who live not far from the community I actually grew up in.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” she reminisced. “I really like what I do. The closer I get to retiring, I don’t think I’m going to retire. I think I’m going to die out. I’m serious … I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon. If my health holds up, I’ll be here for a long time. I don’t see retirement in the foreseeable future.”
Learn more about Blount’s commitment to student safety in the question and answer below.
Please describe your role as a bus operator.
I pick up children and I transport them safely to and from school. But, it’s a little bit more than making sure they get from school to home. You have to make sure that when they’re home, they’re safe. I have some children that I pick up directly at home who are latch-key kids, and I make sure they are inside of the house and before I pull off. There have been times that I’ve seen kids fumbling and they don’t have keys. If they don’t have keys, I have to make sure they get back to school so their parents will know they’ve been locked out of the home. If you just drive off, you don’t know if the kids have gotten in.
As a bus driver, what does National School Bus Safety Week mean to you?
It means making sure that our future is safe. The children are our future; they will be here long after we’ve gone and we’re old. They need that extra support to make sure they can get across the street, make sure they get into their parents’ hands and make it inside their homes.
Why is school bus safety so important to you?
School bus safety is so important because children have to get across the street. I pick my children up on Boulevard. There is no school crossing guard on Boulevard between where my children live and the school. It’s a busy four-lane highway, and children have to get to school and across the street to Benteen Elementary School safely. We’ve had a tragedy where someone was hit going around a MARTA bus, so it’s extremely important that we get our kids to and from school safely.
What are some of the other ways you help keep kids safe on a daily basis?
As bus drivers, we also have to teach our kids about school bus evacuations. There have been times when we’ve actually had school buses to catch on fire, so we have to train children and teach them what to do. I have older children who know where the brake is located and how to shut the bus off in case something happens.
I also teach some children how to use the radio. I also have a PA system and a two-way radio I use to contact dispatch. In the event I need help, I also have an older student on my route whom I’ve taught to call dispatch. The dispatch office can always find me because we’re equipped with a zonar system.
Students are also taught about safety around, in front, and back of the bus, and how to get on and off the bus safely in case of an emergency. These are the things that help keep students safe
What is the most important message you want parents, students and community members to know about bus safety?
People should know that school bus safety is all about transporting and keeping children safe.
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